Provost's Academic Theme - Civic Engagement at Penn

Education for democratic citizenship is perhaps the most significant purpose of American universities. Education is key to developing, maintaining and sustaining a culture of democracy, which is essential for democratic institutions, laws, and elections. Specifically, in a democratic society, higher education must educate not only able, but also ethical, empathetic, engaged, effective citizens.

As President Amy Gutmann described it in her announcement, the theme of Civic Engagement “will include programs, workshops, student-led dialogues, and opportunities to engage with the communities outside our campus, from our immediate West Philadelphia neighborhood, to our surrounding city as it recovers from the pandemic, to the wider circle of our nation and our world, and will also draw on Penn’s historic tradition of civic engagement. We were founded by Benjamin Franklin with a vision of a non-sectarian school to educate the leaders of a growing city, with a focus on practical impact on contemporary life.”

The civic and democratic purposes of universities have never been more important—and they have been in Penn’s DNA since its founding. As Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1749, when envisioning the institution that would become the University of Pennsylvania, developing in students “an Inclination join’d with an Ability to serve Mankind, one’s Country, Friends and Family; which Ability… should indeed be the great Aim and End of all Learning.”